take the spider tack, leave the sunscreen
Major League Baseball is finally going to enforce the rules that ban pitchers from using foreign substances to doctor the ball while on the mound, but some players think the new policy is an over-correction.
Using "sticky stuff" like pine tar as a grip-enhancement is an ancient practice in the game. In recent years, though, a large amount of pitchers have allegedly been applying some materials — such as the oft-mentioned Spider Tack — to their fingers that have really boosted their performance. Basically, the longer the ball sticks to a pitcher's fingers, the more it spins, and the more it spins, the more it moves, and trying to hit a small object that's traveling close to 100 mph before changing course sharply at the last moment is rather difficult.
The usage is likely a significant factor behind a league-wide offensive swoon this season, so while MLB previously turned a blind eye to what's technically cheating, the league reversed course this week, announcing there will soon be an increase in umpire inspections to suss out foul play. If anyone is caught with pretty much any substance, they'll get slapped with a 10-game suspension.
At first glance, that's good news for hitters, but Will Middlebrooks, a former MLB third baseman and current analyst for CBS Sports, bristled at the fact that pitchers would face the same punishment for the illegal-but-commonly-used combination of the separately legal sunscreen and rosin as they would for loading up on Spider Tack. Middlebrooks notes the former simply helps pitchers get a better grip on what's a pretty slick baseball and can actually protect batters from getting plunked, while the latter has been found to dramatically increase spin rate.
Middlebrooks' view is a pretty common, it turns out, and there's a chance that the rules will be eventually be updated, but for now it looks the league's all-or-nothing approach could add to the drama it's trying to squash.